Rising Through Resilience: Dr Cindy Tsai On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times
An Interview With Savio P. Clemente
Gratitude- Our brain has a negativity bias as it’s wired to look for danger and keep us safe from harm. By being in a state of gratitude, it gets us out of the negativity spiral and keeps us focused on the positive and everything that is working.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy Tsai, M.D.
Dr. Cindy Tsai is a board-certified physician, speaker, mindfulness teacher, and life coach. She is a healer at heart and blends her training in internal medicine, coaching and energy healing practices to guide clients to build resilience in the simplest way possible. Her mission is to empower others to be confident and reach their true potential so they can live a meaningful life with ease and joy.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Thanks for having me! I was a shy introvert with good girl syndrome for most of my life. Ever since I was a little girl, I thought I had to be perfect and do all the right things in order to be liked and accepted. I followed in my dad’s footsteps to become a doctor to help people feel better. I worked really hard attending top schools (Johns Hopkins and Dartmouth) to become the best physician I could be. After jumping through all the hoops and completing years of medical training, I was so relieved to finally start working as a “real” doctor. I thought I could finally relax and enjoy my life.
Life looked good on paper. I checked all the boxes… But something didn’t feel right. I wanted to help people be healthy and well, not just take medications as a bandaid for the rest of their lives. I felt stuck and didn’t know what else I could do.
I tried therapy among other things. Still stuck. And then I started working with a life coach and things shifted completely. I learned tools and skills to manage my stress and overwhelm. I gained confidence to explore other options and speak up for myself. I discovered that I could help people in many other ways. My worth as a human comes not from being a physician in a white coat but from how I felt about myself.
I’m grateful to have extensive training and resources and knew I was meant to share and help others on their journey. I wanted to go beyond traditional medicine. So I became a speaker and life coach to empower people to rise above their circumstances and challenges to live their best lives with ease and joy.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I remember how nervous I was as a medical student seeing patients for the first time. I wanted to do everything right and was terrified of making a mistake. Even though you study and memorize all the diseases, it’s not exactly the same when you see a real patient in front of you. I wanted to help but was so embarrassed when I was “pimped” hard (aggressive style of Socratic questioning to test students’ knowledge) by my supervising physician that I was in tears and bitter for days. While getting pimped is often a rite of passage, it was devastating because I was ashamed I didn’t know the answers and judged myself for the worst.
This experience motivated me to learn and work even harder but I was also discouraged, thinking that I was not good enough as I was. I was driven to succeed but it took many years before I finally learned that true validation comes from within, not from external accolades or achievements. Because no one else can make you feel inferior.
I realized that I was my own worst enemy and it was my own thoughts about his behavior that made me feel inadequate. This was powerful because I learned to take responsibility for myself. When I create the problem, I can also create the solution!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As a board-certified internal medicine physician, healer, mindfulness teacher, and life coach, I see coaching as an amazing way to optimize your health and well-being.
My years as a physician showed me the impacts of chronic stress on the physical body. Patients often came in when they were burnt out from being in survival mode and all their body systems were out-of-sync.
My medical training has become one of my superpowers as I can quickly connect and intuitively understand and offer exactly what others need to heal. I love listening to stories and inspiring people to see what they’re capable of to become the best version of themselves.
My coaching is based in mindfulness and emphasizes the mind-body connection so that you can unlearn old patterns and rewire the brain to experience success, joy and freedom in all areas of life.
Coaching empowers you with tools and skills in order to get out of survival mode and into thriving mode. It allows you to manage your mind without medications and to become a relaxed, confident and passionate leader who is in control of your own life.
I have physicians tell me they became better physicians through coaching because they learned how to take better care of themselves without guilt and stay calm in the midst of stressful days.
I have entrepreneurs achieve great success while working less because they learned how to organize and spend their energy most productively.
I have professionals overcome imposter syndrome and gain confidence to stand up for themselves and advance their careers without sacrificing their boundaries.
It doesn’t matter where you’re at, I’ve served many people from different walks of life to reach their goals with ease and joy. I blend the science and the unconventional to offer a direct path to success in the simplest way possible.
My intention is for clients to feel fulfilled and enjoy the life you worked so hard for because it’s totally possible!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m so grateful to my parents for giving me the support and resources to become a physician. I wanted to make them proud and become the best physician I could be. Even though it was a shock when I decided to leave my primary care practice, they have been my biggest cheerleaders along the way. Plus, I’m leveraging all my medical training and experiences every day through serving clients in my coaching practice as I help them become the best versions of themselves.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
I see resilience as the ability to face and bounce back from adversity or setbacks. I coach clients to develop these traits below in order to be more successful in their everyday lives.
Resilient people are self-aware and non-judgmental so they notice when things aren’t working and when it’s time to course-correct.
They’re also flexible and curious problem-solvers to quickly troubleshoot and pivot as needed.
When things aren’t working, it’s important to maintain a calm demeanor with compassion so they can think clearly about next steps.
And lastly, being humble with a growth mindset is invaluable so they can evaluate, reflect, take responsibility and move forward for the better.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Courage and resilience are closely related and both help us better manage adversity and failures.
Courage describes the strength you need to face anything that comes your way. Whereas resilience describes the skill you use to pick yourself up when things aren’t going your way. If you’re stranded in a storm without reception, courage is the healthy snack to keep you going while resilience is like the map to help guide your way.
When you only have courage, you may expend a lot of excess energy without the skill or direction of resilience. When you only have resilience, you may not get through the challenge as quickly without the strength of courage. You can have one or the other but having both will help you recover and grow faster.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
Malala Yousafzai. It’s inspiring to see a courageous young girl stand up for her friends against the Taliban, facing a near-death attack getting shot and persevering after being comatose for days. Malala’s commitment to fighting for the right to education and equality despite adversity is a great demonstration of resilience and leadership.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
When I first started my entrepreneurial journey, everyone had something to say. “You have to do this first… no, you have to do that…” It was hard not to get distracted and to sift through the noise. I was determined to serve clients in a group coaching format given my past experiences seeing great success leading groups. But many people tried to talk me out of it saying it would be too hard for someone who was “new” at this. I did it anyway. It happened. Clients loved it and got amazing results.
Now was it perfect? No. I made mistakes. I learned a ton. But I believed in myself enough and I knew I could do it. So I did.
If you’re in a similar situation and disappointed by the lack of support, I want you to stay focused on you and your why. Know that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and may be coming from a good place. But at the end of the day, you need to do what feels right to you so that you can be the best you can be.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
I mentioned feeling stuck and unhappy a few years ago despite life looking good on the surface as a physician and medical director. And then I got sick with an autoimmune condition impacting my eyes that could have led to full vision loss.
I’ll never forget being a patient and experiencing the rollercoaster of emotions from feeling lost to hopelessness to despair, all within a short span of minutes sitting in the doctor’s office, anxiously awaiting for my results and next steps. We started treatment promptly and I vowed to take care of and heal myself. My body was sending me a message and I had to listen. I assembled a team, just for me.
I found a life coach and healer who said I didn’t want to see the reality of my life and I knew she was right. So I took a lot of time and re-evaluated my priorities. I slowed down. Without guilt or shame or judgment. Finally. And I learned how to reconnect and build trust with myself to have my own back.
I remembered my true purpose to serve as a healer and have never looked back.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
I was raised to be a hardworker but don’t think I necessarily cultivated resilience until later in life. I thought working hard was the solution to everything but in reality, you need both: 1) the willingness to put in the effort and 2) the skills to know how and where to direct your energy effectively.
For me, transitioning from clinical medicine to entrepreneurship was a huge opportunity in building my resiliency. I learned how to stay connected with myself and to create my own calm in any circumstance. This is an ongoing practice and process as I navigate the many unknowns of entrepreneurship and am excited to see that anything is possible.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
I completely agree that resilience is a skill that can be developed and strengthened. That being said, it’s a process and takes practice but gets easier the more you do it. I have a mnemonic PASGA (Punk Artists Sing Great Anthems) for you to remember the 5 steps I recommend to anyone who wants to become more resilient.
1) Pause- Stop and notice what is. We can’t change what we don’t know. Learn to be present and aware without judgment.
TRY: Take a breath to get into your body.
2) Ask- Be curious and ask yourself why this is happening. How is this happening FOR you and not TO you? Allow yourself to wonder.
TRY: Ask yourself, “why is this a problem?”
3) Self-compassion- Practice self-compassion especially when things aren’t working as expected. Learn how to be kind to yourself and treat yourself like your own best friend, no matter what.
TRY: Offer words of kindness to yourself.
4) Gratitude- Our brain has a negativity bias as it’s wired to look for danger and keep us safe from harm. By being in a state of gratitude, it gets us out of the negativity spiral and keeps us focused on the positive and everything that IS working.
TRY: List 3 things you are grateful for in this moment.
5) Action- Take responsibility and decide what to do next. Take inspired action. Know that you always get to choose what to do.
TRY: Take one small step towards your ideal outcome and do it!
Now, this process may be hard to integrate at first, especially if you seldom pause and like to keep things moving along. However, I help my clients easily weave this 5-step process into their busy lives and they find themselves more resilient and able to navigate challenging situations with ease.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love to encourage the practice of offering compassion to others and ourselves and being in a state of non-judgment.
The next time you are feeling annoyed at your spouse for not doing the dishes, I invite you to pause and take a breath first. Ask yourself why this is coming up? Choose to push your judgments aside, be open and listen to what is.
I truly believe we all want to be seen, heard and understood. Be kind to yourself and others. We’re always trying our best with what we know and can at that point in time.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)
Brene Brown. I’m grateful for all the work she has shared on the power of vulnerability. It has allowed me to heal from my shame and to step into my authentic self. I learned that not only is it OK to be me, it’s the ONLY way to be.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Get my free guide on how to create your own calm and join my mailing list to get weekly insider tips on how to confidently live with ease and joy (sign-up on my website: cindytsaimd.com).
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!